Reliance is the most challenging part of getting to Canaan. Moses’ inability to rely on God was the main factor that prevented he and the people of Israel from reaching Canaan.
Reliance can be defined as “to be dependent; to have confidence based on experience” and “depend on with full trust or confidence.” The word reliance comes from the Latin word religare which means “to fasten or bind.” The original sense was ‘gather together,’ later ‘turn to, associate with,’ whence ‘depend upon with confidence.’
This is the fifth post in a series titled “A Love That Shows Us The Way”. This series focuses on Moses, his relationship with God, his purpose, the people of Israel, and the promise of Canaan. If you’re just joining this series, I was inspired by Moses’ emotional breakdown in Numbers 11, where he asked God to kill him. Throughout this series, I have been comparing the Moses who parted the Red Sea in Exodus 14 with the Moses who asked God to kill him in Numbers 11. By looking at a number of passages in Exodus and Numbers, I hope to better understand what caused Moses to fall apart.
In the first three posts in this series, I discussed the role of purpose, commitment, and discipline. Now that I have discussed the moments leading up to Numbers 11, I will discuss Moses’ dialogue with God in Numbers 11 with a focus on reliance. The Book of Numbers is powerful and has important lessons concerning how God wants to give us what he has promised.
when egypt is still an option you are not relying on God.
In the introduction, I defined reliance. Recall that reliance can be defined as “to be dependent; to have confidence based on experience”. That the word reliance incorporates experience as a part of its definition indicates that reliance exists in a relationship where time has passed. You rely on someone who you know from experience. In Numbers 11, the Israelites definitely had some experience with God. From Egypt, to the Red Sea, and the many miracles and challenges of the desert over the course of two years. They knew from experience that God could set them free and provide water and food. It would not be unreasonable for God to expect the Israelites to rely upon him.
In Numbers 11, some of the people of Israel began to complain. It reads:
4 The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. 6 But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”
This is an interesting situation because it wasn’t that they didn’t have food as was the case in Exodus 15, 16, and 17. They had manna. So, they weren’t starving. In fact, for 2 years they had eaten bread from heaven. Though they had food to eat, they did not have the food that they wanted: the food of Egypt.
This moment stands out to me because this isn’t at all about provision. God had provided for them miraculously. However, he hadn’t provided what some of them wanted. This complaint was about the kind of provision. It was about Egypt. The Israelites were comparing Egypt with the desert and some of them concluded that the fish of Egypt was better.
Sacrifice is defined as “an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.” Sacrifice is an act of worship and a test of commitment. In the desert, God wanted to test the Israelites’ commitment to him by observing their ability to sacrifice. God had provided for them miraculously but he hadn’t provided what they wanted. God knew that for some of the Israelites, while in their bodies, they were heading to Canaan, in their hearts, they longed for the land God set them free from. Egypt was still an option. When you have decided that your only option is God then there will be no complaining or comparing because you will be committed to him. Recall that a commitment is an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action. Commitment requires sacrifice. In this case, the sacrifice was the food of Egypt for the promise of God.
In Genesis 22, God told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. It reads:
2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
Abraham did as God told him because he believed, saying “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Abraham had faith that God would provide the sacrifice. It reads:
9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.
10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.
11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.
14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
God allowed the lack because he was still testing the Israelites. He wanted to reveal the ones who were still in Egypt in their hearts. In their complaint, they claimed that they ate the fish in Egypt at “no cost” but that was not true. They ate the food in Egypt at the cost of their freedom. By craving Egypt, they rejected God and they exchanged the privilege of having a relationship with the God who set them free for the place that kept them in bondage.
Moses took action.
Once he understood his purpose, Moses took action. In Exodus 4, Moses returned to Jethro, his father-in-law the Midianite priest, and told him that he was going back to his own people. Meeting Aaron, his brother, in the desert, Moses told him of God’s plan. Later, the two of them assembled the elders and told them that God wanted to set them free. The people believed. But the people became discouraged because – after Moses went to Pharaoh to demand that he set them free – Pharaoh punished them.
Though the people were discouraged, Moses continued to take action on the purpose God had given him. From Exodus 5-11, Moses went to Pharaoh 12 times on behalf of God, insisting that he set the Israelites free. After Pharaoh rejected Moses’ request to let the Israelites go including all of their men, women, and flocks, God continued to send Moses to Pharaoh.
In Exodus 11:4-9, on his 12th visit to Pharaoh, Moses didn’t ask Pharaoh for anything. Instead, he delivered a prophecy that every firstborn in Egypt would die. It reads:
4 So Moses said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. 5 Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. 6 There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. 7 But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal.’ Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. 8 All these officials of yours will come to me, bowing down before me and saying, ‘Go, you and all the people who follow you!’ After that I will leave.” Then Moses, hot with anger, left Pharaoh.
Then, Exodus 12 tells us that God did exactly as Moses prophesied he would do. It reads:
29 At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. 30 Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.
God and Moses were an incredible force.I read the story in awe. Moses was powerful and bold in executing God’s instructions. Moses persevered. I don’t know if I would have had the conviction to return to Pharaoh twelve times. Each time God did something powerful through Moses. It’s one thing to want to be free but it is another thing to pursue it day after day. Moses was listening to God’s instructions and he was ready to do his will. In Egypt, Moses was a model of an incredible servant who was ready to act on God’s behalf to accomplish his purpose. He was steady and, once God equipped him, he did not relent in the pursuit of his purpose: bringing the Israelites out of Egypt.
There are two things that I see in Moses’ actions. First, God didn’t give Moses all of the instructions in their first meeting. Looking back to Exodus 4, I see that God only gave Moses three miracles to perform before Pharaoh. After those were performed, God sent plagues of frogs, gnats, flies, a plague on the livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and, finally, a plague on the firstborn. This tells me that we must remain in communication with God in order to know the plan every step of the way. Takeaway: Our actions require constant communication with God as he moves through us and responds to the actions of our enemies.
Second, I see that God was confirming his presence and power to Moses, to the Egyptians, and to the Israelites. He wanted all of them to know that he was the one who was acting. He didn’t want anyone to attribute the signs to anyone else. God wanted the glory. Had it been a one-time thing someone may have said it was chance, luck or happenstance. But 12 times? We have to admit that it was God. Takeaway: God may require us to do things that are out of the ordinary but we must take action so that when we succeed in our purpose people will know that it was God’s doing and it will be marvelous in our eyes.
If not for Moses the Israelites would have stayed in Egypt.
After seeing God perform many miracles through him in Egypt, Moses had confidence in himself because he knew that he could be confident in God’s ability to act on his behalf. Confidence is defined as “a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances” and “faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper, or effective way”. Pharaoh finally allowed the Israelites go free and Moses left Egypt confident in God.
However, after they left, the Egyptians changed their minds and pursued them. Seeing the Egyptians coming after them, in Exodus 14, the Israelites’ were terrified as they watched the Egyptians pursue them so, although they were armed to fight – instead of preparing for battle – they turned on Moses in anger. In response to their fear, when everyone else was terrified, Moses stood firm, confident in God. Moses made a bold and confident declaration in Exodus 14:13. It reads:
13 “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
Wow. Can you imagine being there to see Moses deliver this word of encouragement? This was the same Moses who said to God, “But why me? What makes you think that I could ever go to Pharaoh and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt?” Moses was marching with the Israelites out of Egypt, they turned against him in rebellion, meanwhile, in the backdrop, the chariots and armies of the Egyptians were approaching, and – in the middle of all of this – Moses said: calm down.
He and God were on the same page. God replied just as cool:
15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. 16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. 17 I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. 18 The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”
God had a plan and Moses knew it because he constantly communicated with God and acted in accordance with God’s instructions. God said: Move on, divide the water and cross it. Simple. God said I brought the Egyptians here so that they’ll know who I am. Get going. Moses acted on God’s commands. Because Moses communicated and acted in agreement with God, God gave him the plan. God let him see what he was doing. Not only did God tell him what to do but he also told him what to use, and the impact that it would have on the Egyptians when it was done. God told Moses the who, what, where and why.
This is God displaying his love by showing us the way. God honors our communication with reassurance, backs up our actions with miracles, and meets our confidence in him with knowledge and plans. Moses and God built their relationship through a cycle. In Moses’ communication, action, and confidence God responded with reassurance, miracles, and knowledge of his plans. In communication, Moses communicated his concerns and God reassured an comforted him. Moses acted and God supported him and displayed his wonders through miracles. Moses grew increasingly confident in God and God shared his plans and gave Moses knowledge. God was building a relationship with Moses so that Moses would feel confident enough to act on a word from him not just in Egypt but in the times to come.
Because of his experience with God in Egypt, Moses’ confidence was the difference in setting the Israelites free. Had he not been there, the Israelites would have likely surrendered and gone back to Egypt.